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Fantasy football isn't just for fans -- NFL players are hooked, too

  • By Associated Press
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NEW YORK -- Fantasy and reality collided at the 1-yard line for Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' running back passed up a sure touchdown and took a knee before the goal line, helping seal a victory over the New York Jets last Sunday. It also made thousands of frustrated fantasy football owners pound their heads against their laptops.

Jones-Drew knows how they felt. He cost himself a win in his own fantasy league.

"I was actually apologizing to myself," he said. "I have myself. It was all in fun. I know a lot of people were affected by it from what I hear."

Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould was one of them. He "owns" Jones-Drew in the NFL Players Association league, which includes seven NFL players and one fan. Gould's Team Automatic lost to Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams' Memphis MudSlingers, partly because of Jones-Drew's kneel-down.

"I'm just glad he apologized," Gould jokingly said. "I probably would have won, so MJD's got to score an extra one for me this week."

Fantasy football leagues aren't just for fans anymore. An increasing number of NFL players are hopping on their computers and agonizing over their lineups.

"I got addicted," Minnesota Vikings backup running back Albert Young said.

Think your fantasy drafts are intense? Imagine what happens when a group of NFL players gets together.

"Matt Forte picked me before I had a chance to pick myself," Gould said of his Chicago teammate. "He has half the Bears team."

Adam Caplan, an NFL reporter for Scout.com, is in his sixth year co-hosting a fantasy football show on Sirius NFL Radio. He estimated that about a quarter of the 60 to 70 players he has interviewed over the last few years participate in fantasy leagues.

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"But almost all of them know what it is," Caplan said, "because at the very least, their friends and family play."

That's something Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez can attest to, because he hears all about it every Monday.

"They've all got me," he said. "It's like, 'Did you score?' They try to sit me down like they're my coach: 'If you're not going to perform, I'm going to have to cut you. I'm going to have to sit you down this week."'

Having inside information doesn't always help, either. Earlier this season, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck benched himself in favor of Brett Favre, thinking the Vikings' quarterback would have a huge day against the St. Louis Rams. Well, Favre threw for 232 yards and one touchdown, but Hasselbeck had a season-high four touchdown passes against the Jaguars.

That's just bad GM work there, Matt.

"I know you can't gamble," said Pittsburgh Steelers guard Darnell Stapleton, "but I think a lot of players do it (play fantasy football) just to see how well they can do, picking their roster and picking who to start this week or next week."

And it's difficult not to be emotionally involved. Jets running back Leon Washington is clogging up a bench spot on his NFLPA-leading team, Jet Lizzle. He has been on injured reserve with a broken leg for nearly a month, but he hasn't had the nerve to cut himself.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams drafted himself in at least one of the three leagues he participates in and has no problem sitting in favor of Houston's Andre Johnson and Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne.

"It's hard to do, but I've got to do it," Williams said. "I'm trying to win."

Players generally believe there's no conflict of interest in operating a fantasy football team.

"I don't necessarily see a problem with NFL players being involved, because technically we're already involved," said San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who doesn't play fantasy sports. "We're the ones out here on the field either getting points or disappointing somebody's Sunday afternoon. Whether or not we play well, win or lose, it still affects us in the real world.

"The fantasy world is just that: fantasy."

Many NFL players bench their colleagues if they're playing against them in reality. That includes fantasy football studs such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

"That's just how you do it," said Jones-Drew, who lost the NFLPA league title to then-Colts linebacker Cato June last year. "If I had Peyton Manning, I would have to sit him when we play them because you don't do those things. You always want the best to happen on the field. That's how it is."

Not that it stops fans from imploring NFL coaches to change their game plans to help their fantasy matchup in a given week.

"All the time, make sure I hand it to Maurice. 'He's on my team, he's my guy.' Yeah, I hear that," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "I started hearing that in the offseason, and I always told those guys, 'Your fantasies and my fantasies are different. Let's acknowledge that, all right?'"

For many NFL players, reality gives them more than enough reasons to worry.

"I see these guys every Sunday," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "I'm trying to beat them. Why would I want to sit on the computer and vote them for my team and have to root for them?"

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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